Tammy Brown serves as a board member of The Womxn Project Education Fund.
The Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health (CERH) recently released game-changing research on reproductive health to monetize the cost of state-level reproductive health restrictions. Studies have long shown that access to reproductive health care is central to gender equity and women’s full participation in the workplace.
Restrictions on access to reproductive health care are not only at odds with stated values, such as equity and inclusion, but they also affect the ability to ensure equal participation for women or improve the health and wellness of people in our state.
Between January 1 and April 29, more than 500 abortion restrictions were introduced across 46 states. In Rhode Island, we saw several bills introduced, including a ban on abortion early in pregnancy at a time when many people do not even know that they are pregnant. Fortunately, this was defeated after a public outcry, but the fact is that we still have long-standing state policies that actively push abortion out of reach.
For decades, Rhode Island has had a ban on health coverage for abortion for state employees and people who use Medicaid. This denial of insurance benefits is meant to make care unaffordable and take away access — and it has done that. These bans fall hardest on people who already face systemic obstacles to health care and economic opportunities — including people of color, low-income families, rural women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and immigrants. This threatens any purported goal to advance equality and justice and impedes participation in the workforce. It also puts state and regional economies at risk.
The values case for getting rid of these restrictions is clear, but the economic costs of have not always been fully articulated. The new tool for CERH is aimed at helping advocates show how restricting access is costly to individuals, families and our state. State-level abortion restrictions cost $105 billion dollars per year — by reducing labor force participation and earnings levels and increasing turnover and time off from work among women ages 15-44.
If all state-level abortion restrictions were eliminated an additional 505,000 women would enter the labor force and earn about $3 billion dollars annually. In Rhode Island, an estimated 1,548 more women would be able to maintain employment and better meet the needs of their families.
We know that women of color are more likely to be covered by Medicaid. This means they are disproportionately affected by our state ban on health coverage. The new research makes clear that passing the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (S267/H5787), which gets rid of these harmful policies, would have an even larger positive impact on labor force participation for Black and Hispanic women and result in significant earnings growth for Black women and a narrowing of the wage gap for women of color.
The COVID-19 pandemic devastated the U.S. economy, with women — especially women of color — bearing the brunt of the crisis. Creating equitable economic recovery requires us to look for ways to ensure that all women are able to make the reproductive health choices that are in the best interest for them, their families, and their careers. It is time for lawmakers to take action. The governor should submit a FY22 budget without harmful coverage restrictions and the General Assembly should pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act. Lawmakers can take concrete actions to ensure that we close gaps in access to care and improve the financial stability of women and families.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Opinion/Brown: Abortion bans bad for women, economy